National passenger rail reform needed

March 01, 2002 11:00 pm

National passenger

rail reform needed

Amtrak crosses rivers of red ink

The Meridian (Miss.) Star:

Now that Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith has been named chairman of Amtrak, he has an ideal opportunity to help implement the new concepts of national rail passenger service detailed by the Amtrak Reform Council.

That council, chaired by Meridian businessman Gil Carmichael, reported to Congress that the current Amtrak was fatally flawed and needed restructuring. Amtrak lost $1.1 billion last year and is seeking a $1.2 billion appropriation from Congress this year. If it doesnt get the money, Amtrak has threatened to stop operating long-distance trains, such as the Crescent which makes two daily stops in Meridian.

That two of the major players in the future of national rail reside in Meridian would be unbelievable if not for their expertise in transportation matters. Both Smith and Carmichael have extensive knowledge of intermodal transportation systems where each component complements another. ...

At this point, Amtrak and the Amtrak Reform Council are not exactly running on parallel tracks and Congress will ultimately have to throw the right switches to determine the destination.

If you believe that a national passenger rail system is good for the country, then you must also know that Amtrak as it now exists has a history of poor management and inefficient operations. Amtrak owns relatively few miles of the track on which it runs trains. It operates a passenger rail system whose trains are forced to weave through a tangled network of freight track, which helps account for frustrating delays. It maintains, purchases and in some cases remanufactures equipment.

It deals with union personnel issues. And, Amtrak currently has 4,000 managers in a total employment of 24,000 people.

The Amtrak Reform Council recommends, among other things, that a new Amtrak focus on core business opportunities, such as moving people, mail and express freight. The council recommends that a new oversight authority be named with real rail policy-making ability and that some operational aspects of passenger rail service be spun-off or farmed out to new, perhaps, private providers. The council recommends that new partnerships among federal, state, local and private sources be formed and that various components of a restructured system could be financed with bonds.

Amtrak has identified a backlog of about $5 billion in work needed. ... The American taxpayer cannot possibly be expected to fund this effort alone.

The old system should fade away, replaced by a solid management organization willing to embrace new concepts and ideas, policies and technologies.

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Pearls death brings resolve

The Tribune Chronicle, Warren, Ohio:

He is not the first casualty of the war.

He is not even the first journalist who has died as a result of the international war on terror.

But Daniel Pearls death is somehow different.

In war, deaths are expected.

They are not welcomed, but they are a part of wars painful reality.

Pearl, however, was not in that war.

He was a Wall Street Journal reporter in a relatively safe area of Pakistan with his pregnant wife when he went off to meet a source and never came home.

It was suspected that Pakistani Islamic extremists kidnapped and eventually killed Pearl, and this was confirmed when the State Department announced a videotape showing Pearls murder.

The attention Pearls death has received is much to the terrorists dismay quite contrary to their intended aim. ...

With this latest development, the resolve to fight terrorism has been strengthened.